China’s ULFA Gambit

November 20, 2020 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) Photo(s): By Twitter / adgpi
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army

 

Indian Army in a planned operation at Meghalaya - Assam - Bangladesh border ensured surrender of a prominent ULFA(I) leader, SS Col Drishti Rajkhowa along with four other accomplices; this was a result of nine month long effort for peace in Assam.

The recent surrender by Drishti Rajkhowa alias Drishti Asom, the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of banned insurgent organisation, ULFA (I) with his four bodyguards to the Army on November 12, 2020 at Rangiya in Assam made headlines. Rajkhowa, commander of 109 Battalion of ULFA (I) until November 2011 was promoted to Deputy Commander-in-Chief by the Commander-in-Chief of ULFA (I), Paresh Baruah who is hiding in China. Drishti Rajkhowa, an explosives and RPG expert was an active member of United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) for past 30 years.

The Army said the surrender was the end result of synergy and cooperation achieved between the Indian Army, intelligence businesses, Assam and Meghalaya Police and security forces of the two states, adding, “Surrender of Drishti Rajkhowa, along with four cadres of ULFA (I) has certainly dealt a severe blow to the ulterior motives of ULFA (I), which had been trying to gain prominence and revive insurgency in lower Assam by undertaking large scale recruitment. Drishti Rajkhowa and his accomplices will, in the times to come, motivate other misguided youth/cadres to follow their lead and come over ground to lead a dignified life and work for the betterment of this beautiful region.” Military intelligence had been working on the surrender of Rajkhowa for past nine years which eventually succeeded in facilitating his surrender.

Paresh Baruah’s response to Drishti Rajkhowa’s surrender was that the security forces had made the surrender dramatic, and that the surrender was with approval from the organisation on humanitarian grounds since his wife is suffering from cancer and they have two minor children. Paresh Baruah also added, “Drishti’s contribution for the organisation has been immense and I cannot forget that for the organisation he had to sacrifice his parents long back.” ULFA (I) was also quick in announcing Michael Deka Phukon alias Michael Asom as the new Deputy C-in-C of ULFA (I) in place of Drishti Rajkhowa. This is seen as a signal from ULFA (I) that the surrender of Drishti Rajkhowa is not so much a big blow as the media is portraying.

In 2008, the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) split into pro-talks group headed by its Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and the ULFA (I), militant group opposed to the peace process, headed by Paresh Baruah. While Arabinda Rajkhowa came over ground in December 2008 to begin talks, Paresh Baruah issued a statement saying, “This is nothing but dirty politics by the government of India in the name of a peace dialogue... peace talks are impossible without discussing the demand for sovereignty”. He claimed Arabinda Rajkhowa, Raju Barua and another activist had been in the custody of security forces since December 2 and that Rajkhowa should clarify his present stand which will help clear the confusion and puzzle engulfing the minds of the people of Assam.

Paresh Baruah was based in Bangladesh for many years. Financed by Pakstan’s ISI, he ran a number of terrorist training camps for ULFA cadres. In September 2007, it was reported that he had escaped from a human rights group to whom Bangladesh authorities had handed him over after the group had filed a PIL over Baruah’s brief detention. Bangladesh’s then interim government acknowledged Baruah’s presence and police was looking for him. Bangladesh had suffered bomb blasts from the Bangladesh-based and ISI-backed HUJI terrorists and it was suspected that porous borders with India were used to smuggle explosives.

On January 30, 2014, a special court in Chittagong commuted death sentence to Paresh Baeuah (in absentia) to Baruah and 13 others for smuggling in 10 truckloads of firearms. According to intelligence reports, these arms smuggled from China were meant for insurgent groups in the northeast. Baruah played a significant role in this along with ministers from the BNP-Jamaat government of Bangladesh and Pakistan’s ISI. However, in 2008, Paresh Barua had escaped from Bangladesh when Sheikh Hasina was re-elected. In 2009, the Hasina government handed over many ULFA leaders to India.

Paresh Baruah has an empathy with Maoists in India having gone on record to state, "Maoism in India has been born out of the government's failure to address to the minimum needs of the common man. We may have different ideologies but we share a common quest – of overthrowing the current social system and replacing it with a new one; our enemy is common and, on this count, the Maoists have our complete moral support.”

After escaping from Bangladesh, Paresh Baruah was in India, visited Nepal and later crossed over to China, all his movements undetected by Indian intelligence agencies. In China, he was reported based at Ruili along with his headquarters, Rujli being proximate to a major border crossing between China and Myanmar. In October 2018, India requested China to trace the ULFA leader and clampdown on his smuggling of arms and narcotics into India’s Northeast region. This was conveyed during the meeting between the Indian Home Minister and Chinese Public Security Minister. Confounded liars that Chinese are, Zhao Kezhi, China’s Minister of Public Security responded with a poker face, saying, “China does not interfere in domestic affairs of other countries”.

In 2015, concurrent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for ‘Act East Policy (EAP), Chinese intelligence engineered formation of United Liberation Front of West and Southeast Asia (ULFWSEA) in Myanmar – an umbrella organization that brought together nine militant groups of northeast, with NSCN and ULFA major ones. Paresh Baruah heading ULFA (I) has a major role in ULFWSEA. At Ruili, Baruah has also been in close contact with the United Wa State Army (UWSA) straddling Shan State and controlling the narcotics ‘golden triangle’ – USWA being China’s proxy which it has equipped with even armoured carriers and missile fitted helicopter.

Baruah is presently reported in Kachin area of Myanmar where several insurgent groups of northeast have their training camps and bases. China has been supporting and several insurgent groups in India including NSCN, ULFA, People’s Liberation Army of Manipur, Maoists etc. The irony is that despite suffering for decades, India has no answer to the China-Pakistan proxy wars. Israel recently knocked out Al Qaeda’s number two inside Iran. But we make no effort to eliminate likes of Paresh Baruah and terrorist leaders in Pakistan.